The Fifth Annual Sideshow To Be Presented At The Armory
Walking up the three flights of unfinished wooden stairs, one would not expect to find much more than possibly a storage room filled with forgotten industrial supplies and broken machinery, but upon opening the heavy door to the third floor of the Armory’s loft, you will find nothing but wonder. Dispersed under the exposed and age darkened wooden beams of the loft is a olio of objets d’art. Cascading down from one of these beams is a latticework of vibrantly colored worry dolls, connected, as we all are, by the most tenuous of threads. Your eye will fall upon molten sculptures, hyper-realistic photographs, abstract painting that cry out to the viewer in a silent scream. Stages dot the area, awaiting the humming strum of musicians who will take to them during the Fifth Annual Sideshow to be held on May 14th and 15th at the Armory as a part of Dayton’s Urban Nights.
Across the length of the room, crosswise from the main door, a stark black and white photograph hangs, drawing you across the creaking floorboards. The photograph depicts a woman, head thrown back with her eyes closed in a frozen moment of ecstasy. The large picture is adorned with brightly colored flowers which frame and then flow under and in front of it, creating a descriptive display. The photographer is Kidtee Hello and she is the lead organizer of this, the fifth installment of the Sideshow. In speaking with her, I was able to get some of the back history of how the Sideshow was first developed.
“When they first started these events, there wasn’t much going on for your average person or artist. Unless you were a graduate of a really good school and had something to show in a really fancy gallery, there wasn’t really anything available except for small art shows like the ones at the Pearl…which actually kind of sparked the Sideshow.” Kidtee went on to describe how the event began. “Laurana Wong wanted to have an event with a little bit of everything and now you see more DYI type art shows…”
Jeff Opt, through an online correspondence, was able to expound on the early days of the Sideshow, having been involved since the beginning and being a part of all the subsequent Sideshows in one form or another since then.
“The original Sideshow idea started with Laurana Wong…it was her idea to throw an art show where the artists worked together to define the show and one that didn’t cost money to throw. It was a community building exercise. There was no theme to the show other than what the participants worked together to create.” Opt went on to say that, “The first show was so successful that it gave birth to the Dayton Circus Creative Collective, a group of like-minded people who wanted to see the spirit of art and community continue year around in Dayton. Since then, the Sideshow has become the premier event for the Dayton Circus.”
This is a perfect depiction of what the Dayton Circus Creative Collective is: a circular energy that feeds and creates itself. The Sideshow begat the Circus and the Circus now gives rise to the Sideshow. It has become a self-sustaining entity of energy and art whose members both feed off of and feed others with a perpetually positive synergy.
With the help of Kate Ervin and Emanuel Cavallaro, I requested Circus members and Sideshow participants to share there thoughts as
to what the essence and purpose of the Sideshow was and is. Within an hour, I had at least ten responses, all eloquently espousing the positive contributions that the Sideshow has made not only to the artists and the patrons, but to the community of Dayton as a whole.
“I think what those of us who have been involved with The Sideshow from it’s very first year probably want The Sideshow to become is a cultural institution in Dayton, an event that people can rely on occurring year after year. This is our fifth year, and I’m extremely proud to be involved.” Cavallaro then answered my query directly by saying, “As for what it means to me, personally? Honestly, all my friends are artists or performers of some sort, and from all different backgrounds. Art is what we do and who we are. The Sideshow is a chance for us to share that with the city. And it’s a chance to celebrate and express ourselves. We’re a motley group, and this is a big undertaking that requires weeks and weeks of preparation and hours and hours of hard work, but we somehow find the time to have fun doing it.”
The responses kept coming, all eloquently passionate about what the Sideshow specifically and the Circus in general meant to each individual artist.
“To me, the Sideshow is a multimedia arts event that recognizes local artists of all ages, races, and social classes. It’s an art event for the community. It may be a grass roots production, or seen as an urban underground show, but it’s also a collection of Dayton’s most progressive and Avant-garde artists.” wrote Christine Gaffney, and aspiring film director said. She then added, “The sideshow is more than just an art show, it’s an experience you can’t have anywhere else in Dayton, and it’s only once a year. Dayton is full of Talent. Much of this talent hasn’t made it’s way into the traditional art gallery yet.”
The belief that the Sideshow provided artists a non-traditional venue I which to express and display their non-conforming works was echoed in many of the messages received and conversations I had with the artists, participants and organizers.
Matthew James wrote, “The Sideshow is an opportunity to get outside of the normal space of commercial artwork, a chance for people whose creative works don’t flourish in the ‘normal’ art world to share their contributions with the community. It’s also an opportunity for artists, performers, musicians, and community organizers to get to know one another and come together around a common cause – two nights of outrageous entertainment!”
The very act of trying to draw together all of these divergent artists, secure a location and coordinate the activities of the Sideshow must be a logistics nightmare. While speaking with Kidtee Hello, I asked if this was her first year dealing with all of this as a lead organizer.
“Yeah. Last year I helped Maggie Ottoson with the Sideshow she put together and then this year, I’m organizing it.”
Margaret “Maggie” Ottoson was very direct and emphatic with her description of what the essence of the Sideshow is:
“Empowerment! Freedom to express in any way you like. A collection of the best music art creativity and activism in Dayton.” Ottoson went on to describe what the overall intentions of the Sideshow are, “What is the purpose of the Sideshow? To bring together like minded people who would otherwise have never met and teach that you can do anything if you simply dare to act.”
Tom Watson III wrote that he used his art as a self imposed art therapy regime to help him rehabilitate from a brain stem stroke he
had suffered. His artwork has turned something that he has feared to reflects a fascinatingly organic view of the brain and the power that it holds.
“It’s one of the artistic highlights of my year!” Tom wrote. “This is my second year as a participating artist and this year is going to be even better than last year’s event. It is a nice way to show my work in an environment that is conducive to free expression and not as restrictive as many venues tend to be. It’s also an opportunity to meet and interact with a lot of other local artists and musicians. It’s also a reunion of sorts for those of us who’ve done it before.
Another factor, almost more important (if not more important) than getting exposure for the artists is the interaction of the artists themselves. The sheer ability to be exposed to each others forms of expression and be influenced to take their own art into areas that they may have never considered possible. Lisa Alexander wrote to express this very aspect of the Sideshow by saying:
“It gives opportunities to local artists to not only showcase their work but to also be involved in a community-building activity.” Alexander succinctly said. “It gives artists a chance to exchange ideas, make contacts, and make friends. It gives the artists a sense of pride in the work they do to help the entire show go off, not just from creating art. It also gives artists a sense of being involved in something bigger than themselves.”
By way of example, Cathy Jeffers described her own experiences as to how the Sideshow influenced her own artwork.
“It really got me to break away too. I usually do art quilts. Last year I did and installation called Fire and Ice.” Jeffers went on to describe the display. “It was a combination of fabric, streamers (representing fire) and white paper mache, (frozen like) figures. I spent hours on it at home and on sight. I really enjoyed the final look…and I could really see the three dimensional impact of the installation in the space.”
Emanuel Cavallaro brought all the elements of the Sideshow and the influence that it has on the artists, the organization and the patrons alike. “The essence of The Sideshow is its malleability. It changes every year. New organizers each year, new artists, new performers, new venue. It’s chaotic as well, because there is never a specific theme. So the artwork, installations and performances are remarkably varied.” Cavallaro “Something very intense can be followed by something very subdued, something appalling by something beautiful. So it can be aesthetically jarring at times, but in a good way, the way in which a roller coaster ride is jarring. In that way, there is something for everyone.”
When: May 14th and 15th from 6:00 pm until 1:00 am.
Where: The Armory – 201 E. Sixth Street (Entrance in rear of building – parking is off of Patterson Blvd.)
Why: See story above
For more information or to see other events that the Circus is involved in, check out their website at www.daytoncircus.org.